Cuba spurred mem­o­ries of the Cape

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE -

REG Septem­ber kept a poem he had writ­ten about his fa­ther, Ni­cholas, through­out all his years of ex­ile.

The first line re­ferred to the dark­brown, cop­pery skin colour of the older man, whose gnarled fin­gers tes­ti­fied to the days when wick­et­keep­ers wore no pro­tec­tive gloves and bro­ken fin­gers, sub­jected to the tyranny of the fast ball, were the or­der of the day.

Reg re­mem­bered his fa­ther as a Hem­ing­way-like char­ac­ter, a fish­er­man whose “eyes so swift to note the change in flight / He was kind and taught me much”.

In the 1930s, Septem­ber se­nior would cy­cle at dawn from the fam­ily home on Sec­ond Av­enue, Harfield Village to fish along the False Bay shore­line. The long, pa­tient cast­ing of the line. The oc­ca­sional bounty of the catch and then “bring­ing it home”.

In ex­ile that mem­ory of home would sur­face, on oc­ca­sion, with bit­ter-sweet and painful ease.

A few years after his flight into ex­ile, Reg was part of an ANC del­e­ga­tion at­tend­ing the Tri­con­ti­nen­tal Con­fer­ence in Ha­vana, Cuba in 1966.

On one oc­ca­sion the South Africans ac­com­pa­nied Fidel Cas­tro into the moun­tains to visit a trad­ing school and col­lege.

Reg re­mem­bered how young peo­ple “lined the streets with flags and bunting, wait­ing for Cas­tro, call­ing out, ‘Fidel, Fidel, Fidel’.

“He met with the young stu­dents after the for­mal­i­ties of his visit had been hon­oured. They gath­ered in a field, a huge bon­fire was lit and the dis­cus­sion went on till about four o’clock.”

Later in the week there was an “another episode worth re­mem­ber­ing”. The lo­cale, a huge pa­rade cen­tre, re­minded Reg of Cape Town’s Grand Pa­rade.

“Fidel was about to ad­dress the crowd. Once the army sec­tion had passed, the crowd then just surged for­ward.

“I had a flash of Cape Town in that mo­ment. I saw these peo­ple of var­i­ous shades of brown and black and every­thing in between surg­ing to­wards the plat­form; so typ­i­cal of my home­town, free and easy.”

“The way peo­ple danced at a cul­tural event was rem­i­nis­cent of the danc­ing at the Cape Tweede Nuwe Jaar Kar­ni­val.

“We share with the Cubans a sim­i­lar slave back­ground ex­cept they were taken out of Africa, whereas we were dragged from the east. Of course there is also our ori­gin from the East coast of Africa.”

Cape Town and its pol­i­tics also man­i­fested in an un­ex­pected fash­ion.

While at­tend­ing a meet­ing in a hall of all rep­re­sen­ta­tives Reg found him­self in line be­hind fel­low ex­ile Isaac “IB” Ta­bata, the cel­e­brated ide­o­logue of the Unity Move­ment who had led South Africa in 1963 via Swazi­land.

Reg’s ac­count was free of any ad­ver­sar­ial mal­ice, de­scrib­ing the mo­ment with a mea­sure of be­mused em­pa­thy: “Ta­bata found him­self in dif­fi­culty when Fidel was ham­mer­ing the Trot­skyites in Latin Amer­ica.

“Even­tu­ally he joined in the tu­mul­tuous cheer that swept across the gather­ing as Fidel re­peat­edly lam­basted the Trot­skyites. Poor chap, it must have been a great dif­fi­culty.”

He com­pared that mo­ment with an en­counter with one of his teach­ers at Trafal­gar High School.

“I was then 16 years of age. My first and only en­gage­ment with Mr El­lis Mer­cury was un­for­get­table. We had never talked but I liked the way he re­lated to the stu­dents.

“I walked up the steps from the out­side and he was mon­i­tor­ing us as we reached the top on our way to our re­spec­tive class­rooms.

“He put his arm around my shoul­ders in the friendli­est way and he said, ‘Reg­gie, my boy, do not worry, the day we have a strong TLSA (Teach­ers League of South Africa) our prob­lems will be over.’”

Reg be­lieved El­lis must have had some idea of the tur­moil, the in­ner con­flict he was go­ing through over po­lit­i­cal choices, con­cerns he raised with Moses Kotane, a Com­mu­nist Party mem­ber, dur­ing his vis­its to the Kotane home on Mount Street in Dis­trict 6.

The is­sue: do we go the TLSA way or do we go the Com­mu­nist Party and Congress way?

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